Anchorites in Grand Forks

The conference website is up, so it must be official! The University of North Dakota will host the International Anchroitic Society conference this fall (September 16th-18th).  In my effort to shatter a personal record for conference papers in a single semester (my personal best is 4), I have submitted an abstract for consideration at this conference.

Also, the Cyprus Research Fund is one of the sponsor (check us out on the sponsorship page!). It seemed like a really good thing to have Cyprus Research Fund support this conference as the Cypriot St. Neophytos ranks high on any list of dedicated anchorite saints.


So here is my hastily written abstract. If you can make anything of this, I hope you can see my shift from an interest in space (e.g. my work on St. Theodore of Kythera, in particular) to an interest in time (e.g. my recent reading and comments on Kathleen Davis’s Periodization and Sovereignty.)  The paper has not been accepted and the abstract is a bit on the raw side, but it is not dissimilar to some ideas that have been contemplating lately.

“Margins of Space and Time in Hagiography of Middle Byzantine Greece”
Abstract for the 2011 International Anchoritic Society Conference

The early Middle Byzantine Era in Greece is a dynamic period in both the history of the region and in the literature of Byzantine monasticism. In general, scholars have argued that this period saw a shift from individualized asceticism to practices oriented around more coenobitic forms of monasticism. At the same time, the region of Greece and the Aegean witnessed significant shifts in population that produced new areas of wilderness in which various monastic vocations could engage. The activity of Arab raiders in the Aegean depopulated islands making them into deserts, coastal regions went from being literally liminal to politically liminal, and geopolitical shifts re-opened for Christian settlement territories abandoned as too exposed to the Muslim raids.

This paper looks at several locally produced saints’ Lives from the Aegean basin and considers the role of the wilderness and liminality in the interplay between Byzantine monasticism and Byzantine society. In particular, this paper will argue Middle Byzantine hagiography from the Peloponessos played a key role in the re-occupation and appropriation the margins of both space and time. Unlike better-known saints associated with the Imperial capital of Constantinople, the lives of more obscure and often neglected local saints, like St. Nikon, St. Luke of Steiri, St. Theodore of Kythera, and St. Ioannis “the Stranger”, engaged a local landscape at a moment when Byzantine institutions were undergoing a significant change.

Spatially, the middle Byzantine saint – through their authors – sought to re-center the profane world by traveling out into the wilderness. By focusing their sacred activities in the margins, the Byzantine saint created a spiritual counter-weight to the populated centers of institutional authority in the towns and cities under Byzantine control. The demographic, political, and economic changes of the so-called Byzantine Dark Age and the revived fortunes of the Byzantine state and local communities stimulated the need to reinforce social and institutional centers. Sacred margins implied profane centers and bonded human to the divine by spatializing this fundamental Christian duality.

The authors also discovered in these liminal spaces evidence for the margins of local time. Local saints wandered not only the depopulated spaces beyond the edge of local settlement, but also among the ruins left by the earlier inhabitants. By setting their sacred dramas among these earlier buildings, largely in ruins, the authors and their holy men and women marked out not only the end of inhabited space but also the edge of the present. The visible remains of past prosperity reminded local residents of the disruptions of 7th and 8th centuries and located the sacred world of the saint on the ragged edge of the local present. Reclaiming the ruins of the past for the present re-established local continuity and like the monastic occupation of the wilderness, re-centered the profane world through contact with the sacred.

By focusing largely on local saints, this paper is able to contextualize the efforts of those authors in a specific time, place, and historical circumstances. In these narratives, holy men and women incorporate the margins into a renewed Byzantine landscape by appropriating it for the sacred center. The profound division between sacred and profane in Byzantine Christianity paralleled the distinction between the wilderness and the reviving profane centers of Byzantine society, economy, and administration. The activities of local saints to reclaim the margins for the sacred landscape reinforced profane centers by establishing the limits in time and space of their opposite.


  1. […] rooted in our periodization schemes, chronologies, and disciplinary structures. I am giving a paper later this summer looking at evidence for indigenous archaeological practices in Middle Byzantine saints’ […]


  2. […] Byzantine Hagiography of Greece and the Aegean”. I’ve blogged on the paper here and here. View this document on […]


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